BERLIN – More school closures and the suspension of business travel are among the steps being taken around the world to fight the spread of the new coronavirus.
These are some of the latest developments Wednesday:
SCHOOLS, PRAYER DISRUPTED
Italy is closing schools nationwide after reporting more than 3,000 cases of the new virus and more than 100 deaths. In the United States, some schools in Washington are considering the possibility of having to teach students online as the state's death toll reached 10. In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia banned pilgrimages to the holy city of Mecca. Iran canceled Friday's Islamic prayers in major cities. In Israel, the chief rabbi is urging observant Jews to refrain from kissing mezuzot, small items encasing a prayer scroll that are posted by Jews on doorposts.
The World Health Organization says 3.4% of people known to have had the new virus globally have died so far. But it's too early to know if the death rate for the virus is really that high. When viruses pop up in new places, the first to get counted are often the sickest. And health authorities think many people with mild cases of COVID-19 are still going uncounted right now. With SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, about 10% of patients died. On average, the seasonal flu's death rate is about 0.1%.
CRUISE SHIP RECALLED
A cruise ship is being called back to San Francisco after a “small cluster” of former passengers in Northern California were confirmed to have the new virus. That included a Mexico cruise passenger who became the first person with COVID-19 to die in California. The chief medical officer of The Grand Princess says guests who sailed on the Feb. 11-21 voyage and are currently on the ship need to stay in their rooms until they are cleared by medical staff.
SOUTH KOREA SEEKS HOSPITAL BEDS, NORTH KOREA CLAIMS ZERO CASES
The South Korean city of Daegu is short of thousands of hospital beds for patients, while neighboring North Korea says it doesn't have any cases. But experts say the virus may already be circulating in North Korea, which also shares a border with China, where the virus first appeared. Meanwhile, tiny Liechtenstein and the remote Faroe Islands off Europe reported their first cases Wednesday.
MONA LISA SMILES AGAIN
The Louvre Museum in Paris has reopened after managers promised measures to ease workers’ fears about catching the virus from visitors who come from around the world. The measures include distributing more disinfectant gels and giving staff more time to wash their hands. Additionally, staff will only need to stand at the entrance to the room where Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” is displayed, rather than inside. The museum will also stop accepting cash payments because of worries banknotes could harbor the virus
AIR TRAVEL BLUES
Demand for air travel may be about to take another hit, as companies including Amazon and Nestle ask employees to curb business trips The International Air Transport Association says January had the slowest monthly year-over-year growth since April 2010. And the group says that's only the beginning of the traffic impacts it expects since major travel restrictions in China related to the virus did not start until late January. On Wednesday, United Airlines said it will freeze hiring and ask employees to volunteer for unpaid leave as it struggles with weak demand for travel because of the new virus outbreak.